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Statement by the Intelligence Services Commissioner on the publication of his 2014 Annual Report

Today the Government published a report submitted to the Prime Minister by the Rt Hon. Sir Mark Waller, Intelligence Services Commissioner, on his work as Commissioner in 2014.


Sir Mark said:

"The Intelligence Agencies and the Ministry of Defence have wide ranging powers to disrupt threats to the United Kingdom and to our interests, including powers to intrude upon our privacy.

"It is important to ensure that they use these powers lawfully and proportionally and it is my role to oversee that. Although there have been a number of human errors and I have made a number of recommendations, I conclude that the agencies, the MOD and the Warrantry Units take compliance extremely seriously"

The report covers the Commissioner’s inspections of MI5, SIS, GCHQ and the MOD during 2014. As part of his continued drive for greater openness  the Commissioner has restructured his report and dealt with issues thematically including, for example, sections on Intrusive Surveillance, Directed Surveillance, Covert Human Intelligence Sources and Intelligence Services Act section 7 authorisations. There is also a section on his recently publically avowed Bulk Personal Data oversight.

In summary the report says:

Bulk Personal Datasets (BPD):

  • The Commissioner welcomes avowal of his oversight;
  • The agencies have made the case for holding BPD; their  data review panels consider and regularly review the necessity and proportionality of retaining d ata and recommend deleting any data sets for which there is not sufficient justification to retain;
  • The Commissioner oversees how the agencies acquire, use, retain, disclose and delete bulk personal data (BPD);
  • The agencies have strict procedures in relation to handling, retention and deletion;
  • The procedures governing use are such that any access can only be justified for a proper business purpose so that intrusion into the privacy of persons not of intelligence interest is avoided. Officers work with a high degree of integrity and an awareness that the systems they have access to contain highly sensitive information which must be protected and any misuse by individuals is  rare and treated very seriously;
  • The Commissioner has made a number of recommendations relating to the agencies use, retention and protective monitoring of BPD.  These recommendations have sought to reinforce the need to justify use of BPD and the need to protect individual privacy unless intrusion to gain information relating to a subject of intelligence interest is justified.

Pages 32 – 38 of the report

Intelligence Services Act:

Section 5 Property Warrants

A property warrant could be used to authorise entry into or interference with a domestic residence. It may also be used for remote interference with a computer in order to obtain information from that computer. 

  • Section 5, "Thematic" Property Warrants

The Commissioner expressed concerns about use of "thematic" property warrants under section 5 of ISA. Unlike Section 7, Section 5 does not expressly allow for a class  authorisation. He made a number of recommendations in this area enforcing the importance of the relevant Secretary of State being able to properly assess necessity and proportionality, the point that property warrants should be as narrow as possible and that thematic warrants should not be requested for administrative convenience.

Pages 17-19 of the report

  • Section 7 Class Authorisations


The Commissioner recommended that SIS improve the audit trail of   taking place under section 7 class authorisations to ensure improved accountability and allow greater oversight both by management and himself. Although clear to the Commissioner that proper consideration is given to the necessity and proportionality of activities under these authorisations, this is not set out clearly in a single document.


The Commissioner was impressed with the formality of the audit trail and the level of consideration given to operations taking place under a section 7 class authorisation  in GCHQ, which have two levels of approval under their internal systems (internal approvals and "additions"). He welcomed the work done in assessing the necessity for the activity in the national interest and to ensure intrusion into privacy was minimised. He recommended that where he selects an internal authorisation for inspection all the additions are included in the list of operations from which he selects for detailed scrutiny.

Pages 23 – 26 of the report

Consolidated Guidance:

  • Since 27 November 2014 the Commissioner’s oversight of the Consolidated Guidance has been placed on a statutory footing;
  • The Consolidated Guidance was considered in 516 cases during 2014 compared with 418 during 2013 - the figures do not show the number of individuals subject to unacceptable conduct but that proper consideration was being given to that risk in a number of cases;
  • In all the instances  reviewed, staff demonstrated they had considered the risk of mistreatment or unacceptable conduct of any detainee.


  • In 2014 there were a total of 43 errors. 34 reported to the Commissioner by the agencies and nine he discovered during his inspections;
  • All of the errors were caused by human error and resulted in intrusions into privacy to some degree. None were deliberately caused by those involved;
  • During 2014 the Commissioner raised his concern that the agencies did not report errors in a timely way. The agencies responded that the length of time it took to complete internal reviews and investigations into errors caused the delay. As a result he now requires that the agencies notify him as soon as they anticipate that an error investigation will take longer than the three month limit for reporting.

Notes for editors:

This report covers the period from January to December 2014.

Sir Mark was appointed by the Prime Minister and first took up his post in January 2011. He accepted the Prime Minister’s request to serve as Intelligence Services Commissioner for an additional three years from 1 January 2014.  He was Lord Justice of Appeal from 1996 until he retired in May 2010. 

The 2014 report can be accessed by following the link below.

Accessible version
Print Version

25 Jun 15